Bringing Twitter into the Classroom: A Low Budget Approach

It is no secret that I teach at a rural school that has a very restricted budget when it comes to technology.  Believe me when I say there have been many of us fighting for upgrades, new computers, wireless, smartboards, document cameras, etc.  Last week I took a different approach to introducing my students to Twitter. Now, I have thrown a lot at both my 7th and 8th graders when it comes to Technology.  My students have learned about Google Docs, Glogster, Celly, our Wiki Page, and Edmodo.  I will admit, I have taken all of them completely by storm.  My 7th graders think it is crazy that I like technology so much.  Anyways, I didn’t want to quickly shove one more piece of technology down my students throats.  So, what I did is I introduced my students to Twitter.  Before we talked about Twitter I had my students do the following for their writing into the day:

Write a message to someone you know using 144 characters or less.  It must make sense and you can’t use text lingo.

Needless to say when the students shared, they had some really interesting posts.  One student wrote: “I am writing a 144 character message. I am doing this because my teacher is asking us to” After the students were done doing this I cleared my white board and drew the word TWITTER on the board.  I then proceeded in having a class discussion about what Twitter actually is and what is its purpose.  All of my classes were similar in their responses.  Here are the common ones they came up with.

  1. A type of social network w/similar qualities like Facebook.
  2. A way to tell people what you are doing at any given point.
  3. It’s free
  4. You can follow people and people can follow you
  5. It is symbolized by a little blue bird
  6. You tweet

I felt my students did an awesome job with this particular part of the lesson.    Next, I asked my students why companies, businesses, or colleges might use Twitter.  I gave subway, and Jimmy Johns as an example.  Students gave multiple answers, but bottom line, they came up with promoting a product and getting people to buy their product.  I responded by saying “Yes, however, why Twitter?”  This part stumped students.  It took a lot of prompting but I did get a few students talk about the idea that it was free and we then discussed the cost of advertising.

After our discussion, I asked students to go back and either write another personal “paper tweet” or write a “paper tweet” from a company or business perspective.  The students did great.  I wish I had pictures of the work they did.  The next time I do this lesson I will take pictures and have students write on a sticky note to put on a poster.  Anyways, I finished the lesson by telling the students they could sign up for a Twitter account and I showed them what the home page looked like on I did not want my students to feel overwhelmed by having them sign-up for one more digital tool that required a password and username they would probably just forget.  I wanted them to feel less pressure and allow them to view it for themselves and play with this valuable digital tool.  I encouraged my students to follow me, but I told them I would not follow them in return just because of student/teacher relationship boundaries.  I want to follow-up further with my students and see if any of them have creating twitter accounts and find out who or what they are following. I think you could take this lesson and put your twists on it, but I thought it was valuable to teach to my students, especially because there are a lot of social media websites out there they need to learn about.


Dodging Digital Difficulties: Implementing Digital Tools in Rural Schools

Is there anyone else out there who get the feeling from time to time that people are either reading your thoughts or they are on the same wave lengths as you when it comes to specific topics.  I have been freaked out twice by this in one day and though it can be a little spooky, I feel like I am making connections with people and it feels great!  This is how I felt when I found this great video on what it is like to teach teaching in rural America, that was tweeted by my national writing project colleague from West Virginia April Estep. You can follow her at @MsEstep on twitter.

I am not going to lie here folks, I know funding is an issue and every school district could use more money.  On the other hand, throwing money at the situation doesn’t always fix the perplexing problems we have in our rural schools.  And yes, I do teach at a rural school! With that being said, I know there are many rural schools that face technology issues in their district and each district can be very limited when it comes to students being able to access technology.  Believe me, I am guilty of crying and whining and wanting to kick my feet in frustration because I don’t have access to working computers or my students can’t use computers on a regular basis. Realistically, I strongly believe we waste more time complaining when we can find ways to improvise the use of technology.

First, I urge you to open up the use of cell phones in your classroom or your district.  My district is going to re-write the policy it has on cell phones just so students can use them in class.  I currently use Celly in class and Wiffiti has been suggested as a great tool to use too.  Second, I would like to suggest using something like Grammar Girl in your classroom.  There are multiple podcast for free available on many grammar issues.  My students love the fact they don’t have to always listen to me preaching about grammar.  Most audio sessions or lessons are no longer than 6-8 minutes.

Finally, as one last suggestion I would like to offer up the idea of students doing a paper blog.  Blogging on a computer can be challenging for teachers and educators that don’t have technology readily available to them.  However, that doesn’t mean we can’t teach students what a blog is and why people write them. Give students an opportunity to create a “paper blog”  This is a lesson I plan on sharing with my students on January 30th and then they will create their “paper blog” on February 1st.  There are many different ways to approach this lesson.  You can check out some paper blog activities on

So, channel that valuable energy for positive use and be creative in your classroom to help our 21st century learners.  Other simple ideas could be to allow students to bring in their Kindles and Nooks and designate some time to let them read.  Allow students to have their iPod or iTouch in class to use for a day.  Calculators on cell phones are also ways we can get around budget constraints for our students.

Although my suggestions may not fix the bigger problem, there are still other avenues to explore for implementing a digital world into our classroom.  My school isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination.  However, I have hard-working colleagues who are willing to put in the extra time to find grants and figure out what it is going to take to make our school more 21st century friendly.


Texting in Class: The Pros and Cons of Celly

Since last year I have been trying to find a way to implement the use of cell phones into my classroom, a journey well worth taking.  More and more students today are using cell phones.  The humorous thing is, they don’t always use them to talk on.  Students love texting.  Last year as I began to slowly introduce cell phones into my classroom, I was missing a very valuable component, which was assessment.

This past summer I found a website called Celly.  Celly is a collaborative space where the teacher creates a “cell” and students sign up via their cell phone number and the teacher invites them to a cell. 

This year I use Celly once a week with my students.  It has the assessment piece that was missing for me and my students last year.  Now I can see the cell and read what the students have written.  As with any digital tool, there can be speed bumps.  Although there are pros and cons to Celly, I believe it to be a valuable tool to use for the 21st century classroom.


  1. Easy set-up.  It literally takes minutes to set-up
  2. Easy to use.  Students love Celly day and are always asking when we will be doing it again.
  3. Teachers can asses student writing in a more formative manner or be summative as well.
  4. Privacy.  Teachers do not need to exchange cell phone numbers with students.  Students can simply type them in at a computer and a teacher can approve their request to join a cell.
  5. Cell Options.  Teachers can have a curated chat where everything must be approved before being posted or they can have an open chat where everyone can respond to each other.


A typical cell with student responses


  1. Not all students have cell phones.  Being in a rural school, I have students who do not own a cell phone.  I have those students respond on my classroom wiki space in the discussion section.
  2. Students still like to use text lingo. In my classroom, I set the standard where students can’t use text lingo in my classroom.  I preach practicing formal writing.
  3. A plethora of text messages gets sent to student’s phones. If a teacher opens the cell, all posts from every student will go to all member’s phones.  If you don’t have unlimited texting on your phone, this can be a problem.
  4. Cell phone policy in Schools. If your district has a cell phone policy, you may run into a road block with your administrators.  The most important thing a teacher can do is show the student is getting assessed on their writing.

Overall, I have had very few technical issues with Celly. Celly has a great help cell and they are quick to respond. I encourage teachers to set solid guidelines when using Celly.  A parent letter home would be beneficial.  If you are a secondary teacher such as myself, try it with one class first, and then when you get the hang of it, start using it in all of your classes.  Celly is a 21st century tool that can help students write and communicate.